Via Farinetta (witnessing a helicopter rescue)

Publiziert von Stijn , 26. Mai 2014 um 21:58.

Region: Welt » Schweiz » Wallis » Unterwallis
Tour Datum:25 Mai 2014
Klettersteig Schwierigkeit: SS+
Geo-Tags: CH-VS 
Zeitbedarf: 6:45

My first via ferrata this year: Via Farinetta in Canton Valais.

On Saturday, I attended an "Aktiv Tag" organised by my heath insurance Atupri, that included a very interesting visit to the hypermodern Rega base in Zweisimmen. Little did I know, that wasn't going to be the last I was to see of helicopter rescue for the weekend. I stayed the night in Vevey on Lake Geneva, witnessing a wonderful sunset over the lake. On Sunday morning I met up with fellow member Leo in the Valais village of Saillon. There is plenty of free parking in the village, for example at the Place Farinet.


From the village, the approach to the via ferrata is short and mostly signposted. The approach leads along the river Salentze into a gorge. The Via Farinetta is named after Joseph-Samuel Farinet, a 19th century outlaw and counterfeiter who died in this gorge whilst on the run from the police, in circumstances that have never been cleared up. He has become such a local legend that the Banque Cantonal du Valais has issued a special coin in his memory. A bank honouring a counterfeiter; imagine that!

Since 2011, there is also this via ferrata named after Farinet. Initially consisting of two parts, since late 2012 (and revised in 2013) there is also a third section. The three sections are very different in style and difficulty.

First sectionK3, a waterfall via ferrata suitable for beginners. In fact, this first section is one of the easiest via ferratas in the region, and as such attracts a lot of beginners. This quickly leads to major traffic jams at the first obstacle of the route: a shaky 20 meter long wire bridge. The people in front of use takes ages to move across one by one, trembling all the way. After the wire bridge, the route become more interesting, climbing the rocks at the side of a waterfall. There is a short, slight overhang, so a maybe a little more strength is required than on your average K3 via ferrata, but it's really well protected. The first section ends in the woods, with a resting spot and an escape route.

Second sectionK4+, a spectacular traverse of the wall of the gorge, with a tunnel, followed by a vertical ascent. The second section starts along a water pipe, and quickly puts you in the middle of the south wall of the Salentze gorge. The route now traverses this wall for a while. This traverse is the highlight of the entire Via Farinetta. There is more contact with the rock than on the other sections the exposure is magnificent; pure via ferrata joy. The route then leads through a short tunnel (no head torch required), before it starts to ascend again. This final ascent has some overhangs and is considerable more physical than the first section. A little elbow hook on an iron rung here and there whilst moving the carabiners across comes in quite handy. Highly recommended, this second section. I'd even say: you don't miss much if you skip the first section and start directly with the second, and you'd avoid the queues at the wire bridge in the first section.

Shortly before the route reaches the top of the wall, near the spectacular "Passerelle à Farinet" footbridge that crosses the gorge, there is a junction: left for a direct exit, right for the third section of the Via Farinetta.

Third sectionK5+, a rather physical experts-only section, with tough overhangs, and a reputation for getting people in trouble, to such an extent that is has acquired the nickname "étape Air Glaciers" (source). In 2013, this section of the Via Farinetta saw a total of nine helicopter rescues, and today was not going to be any different... There's a group of five people directly in front of us, and one of them is obviously in trouble. She is looking exhausted, and has already suffered a minor fall. The leader of her group tries secure her better, to which end I contribute my own 30 meter rope. Secured on the rope, she manages to slowly advance for a while. But then the exhaustion is complete, and she is utterly stuck, with no way out but to call a helicopter. There is no way past, so we are stuck as well, as is everybody behind us. The Air Glaciers helicopter arrives and drops two mountain rescue specialists off at the top of the gorge. They abseil and then traverse on the via ferrata to reach the exhausted woman. They put a "pamper" around her, in which she can then be safely winched up with the helicopter. Myself, I'm less than 10 meters from all of this. I've witnessed a couple of helicopter rescues already, but never this close-by!
We can finally continue now, with the toughest overhangs still to come at the very end. The long idleness hasn't helped either. I have to admit, I'm sweating it a little on this third section as well. The official grade for this part is a TD+ (very difficult+), which would correspond to a K5+. That might still be correct, but I must emphasize that this section is in any case clearly harder than some other K5 routes, harder for example than the third section of the Braunwald / Eggstöcke via ferrata.
Note: an interesting feature early on in the third section is a wire ladder dangling next to the wall. It is not immediately obvious how to best use it. During the 2013 revision of the route, extra holds have been drilled into the wall here, so that it is now perfectly feasible to get up without using the dangling ladder. Indeed, most people seem to do without ladder now.
A few more warnings: the third section is not yet described in the current editions of via ferrata guidebooks (such as the SAC guide or the Alpinverlag guide). Don't make the mistake of thinking that the K4+ grade in those guidebooks also applies to the third section; it is really a lot more difficult! There is some information about this section in French on the website of the village of Saillon. However, it might appear from the sketch on the leaflet that the third section is just an alternative ending, parallel to the end of the second section. In reality, the third section goes quite a lot further and higher than that. The official time estimate for the third section is 45 minutes, and considerable strength is required throughout! In any case, make sure to bring an extra sling and carabiner. You'll be very glad to have them, especially if you're stuck for ages on the wall, waiting for someone to get pulled out by the helicopter...
It can't be stressed enough: don't overestimate yourself, and don't underestimate the third section of the Via Farinetta. For the woman who got rescued, a quick decision at the end of the second section will end up costing her (or hopefully her insurance) a lot of money! If the helicopter really has to keep coming here ten times per year, then you have to start asking yourself what the point of it all is.

Leo and me finally finish the route. I get my rope back, together with an apology and a word of thanks from the group involved. We descend across the Passerelle à Farinet footbridge and via the hamlets of Motagnon and Produit. The complete round trip should have taken about 4h30. But with all the delays, it takes us just under 7 hours before we are back at the car...

By the way: the fortified mediaval village of Saillon ("Le Bourg") is well worth a post via ferrata exploration. Don't miss the interesting path that goes behind the church, through a botanical garden, uphill to a large cross, down a steep descent where the path is secured with cables (briefly T3) and up to the medieval Bayart tower. (The tower can also be reached from the road to its north, avoiding the T3 section.) The Tour Bayart looks a little derelict from the outside, but an ingenious combination of old stone stairs and new metal constructions (K1 if you like) actually allows you to climb to the top for a nice view.


Well, that was my seventh Swiss via ferrata, and the second time already that I get to witness a helicopter rescue. So, please people, take care and know your limits. The second part of the Via Farinetta is the most beautiful anyway, so there's really no point in trying the third part if you're not 100% ready for it.

Tourengänger: Stijn


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